Joys Of Modern Life: 17: Eurostar

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The Independent Culture
HAPPINESS, THEY say, writes white, so it would be hard for me to express how I feel sitting on Eurostar with a cup of coffee en route to a few bieres and dinner on the Left Bank.

Basically, like Eric Cantona in that Eurostar ad, I am in a kind of reverie as I watch the countryside flash by. Also like Eric, I am thinking high-flown thoughts, chiefly concerning man's triumph over nature.

Dig a tunnel under the Channel so that trains can go from Waterloo to Paris (and Brussels) in around three hours... the audacity of the notion, and the fact that it's really been brought to fruition, leave me constantly amazed. Every time I step off the train after another successful trip I feel like somebody who's been sawn in half by a magician and then safely returned to the audience.

Of course, not every trip is totally successful, but readers can rest assured that I have only been stuck in the tunnel for three hours with lights fading on one occasion.

But even this I enjoyed, and the whole experience was testimony to the validity of the European idea. I spent most of the time in a very animated huddle in the buffet (they were giving out free wine, you see) talking to an Englishman who kept urging everyone to play whist with him, and a Belgian who, as far as I could work out, was a poet sponsored by the European Community to write pro-European Community poetry.

There was also a German engineer who cheerfully predicted that our marooned train would eventually fall through the bottom of the tunnel. ("I can see no reason why zis should not happen," he kept repeating.)

Such cosmopolitanism is a large part of Eurostar's glamour. But what I prize most in this English, Belgian and French collaboration is the French component. The English female voice announcing, on the Tannoy at Waterloo, the imminent departure of the 7723 sounds merely businesslike. The French female, announcing the same thing a second later, sounds as if she's having an orgasm.

I love the Frenchness and freshness of the on-board coffee and baguettes, and the Gallic look of the train guards. They are saturnine, got up like gendarmes. Walking past their guard of honour after arrival at a gloomy, rainswept Gare du Nord recently I felt like a character in a novel by Simenon.

Admittedly, I speak not only as a Europhile but also a trainophile; a spotter, if you want to be offensive about it. And Eurostar is the first thing we trainspotters have had to get excited about for a very long time. Even today, approaching the service's fourth year of operation, you'll see a complement of spotters on most of the trains, carrying their Marmite sandwiches to the gastronomic capital of the world.

But who can blame them? This quarter-mile-long beauty is, almost literally, a train and a half.

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